Italian Genoese Sponge Cake with Wild Blackberry Heirloom Frosting

Italian Genoese Sponge Cake With Wild Blackberry Heirloom Frosting.  Step-by-step for our blog series on this cake: A chilled cake topped with Wild Blackberry Bavarian Cream for our version of vintage Charlotte Russe, dotted with fresh local raspberries and blackberries, wrapped in a double fence of homemade Ladyfingers and drizzled with Creme Anglaise (Vanilla Custard Sauce).

Wild Bavarian Charlotte Russe sliced Photo by Christine Murphy

Lots of extra-large eggs coming up! A dozen to be exact.

Oh. And BANGING the cake on the counter, repeatedly! To music. Oh yeah!

And did I mention LOTS of butter in the frosting? But it’s okay. Why? Because you only get one slice on one very special occasion that calls for one very special cake. 🙂

Complicated recipe warning –but WAIT. Break it down for me. Way down. Okay, did that. This cake is as good as In-The-Bank because you can follow each and every step with straight forward directions and with photos for your slow food cooking complete convenience. It won’t even rent space in your head, as my kids might say. Remember. You can do this — with some time carved away from your busy schedule — to make something incredibly special.

Genoese Sponge Cake History:

Cake tucked underneath Bavarian Cream

Also known as the Genoise Cake, this vintage sponge cake hails originally from…where else?…Genoa, where Italian cake chefs developed an egg-based cake that can also be sliced into hand-cut slices to substitute for Ladyfinger cookies that line the incredible Charlotte Russe. The cake in this recipe is sliced into 4 thin layers (although the recipe allows for 2 extra layers if you want a taller cake or baker’s snacks). We cheated and added a bit of baking powder to the original vintage recipes to lighten the cake just a tad. Okay, we also added melted butter to enrich the batter. I hope you’re going to love it!  It still retains that tea cake consistency with that incredible spongy nature — so it is quite easy to handle and toss around the kitchen without crumbling– or for easy frosting and layering. 🙂

Heirloom Frosting:

The cake is layered with an old-fashioned cooked custard frosting that is commonly (or not so commonly) referred to as Heirloom Frosting. This frosting recipe uses granulated sugar as opposed to powdered sugar and it is cooked on the stove-top just like making your Sunday dinner gravy or like making a white (bechamel) sauce for your pasta dishes, then we add the custard sauce to well-beaten creamed sugar and butter. Of course, we added some drizzles of wild blackberry juice to the frosting to pink-it-up a bit and to give it a very subtle wild blackberry punch. When it is frosted and chilled on this cake, the frosting “hardens” just slightly to an incredible soft candy-like consistency similar to the behavior of cold white chocolate frosting and is really unique and fun to present on the fork (and in the mouth 🙂 ), especially when served with the Wild Blackberry Bavarian Cream and berries that you will find in the accompanying recipe.

Take your time and have fun with it. This is a special celebration cake so it doesn’t show up that often. You’ll be a star at your elegant dinner party or celebration event.

This is STEP TWO in a series of directions for this cake. You will receive step-by-step photo directions for each step along the way.

Step 1: Preparing the Ladyfingers Click here for the Ladyfinger recipe & directions.
Step 2: Preparing the Genoese Sponge Cake & Heirloom Frosting (right here. Well, below.)
Step 3: Preparing the Wild Blackberry Bavarian Cream Mousse
Step 4: Preparing the Creme Anglaise (it’s easy)
Step 5: Traveling with and Serving the Cake

Directions for Preparing the 4-layer Genoese Sponge Cake:

Tools need for the Sponge Cake:
2 cake pans 9″ each, good quality with solid flat bottoms (9″ size is important for the molds)
Parchment paper or good quality wax paper (to line baking pans)
Soup-sized bowl (for melting butter)
2 medium-sized bowls (for separating 12 egg whites and yolks)
Medium-sized bowl (for whisking dry ingredients)
Electric Mixer
Very large mixing bowl (for whipping 12 egg whites and 12 yolks)
Measuring cup(s)
Measuring spoon(s)
Very large bowl (for folding flour into 12 whipped eggs)
Kitchen timer
Plastic wrap (for holding cakes until frosting)

Ingredients for Italian Genoese Sponge Cake:
3/4 cups unsalted butter (12 T)
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
12 extra-large egg yolks (substitute 14 large eggs)
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup superfine sugar

1. Set oven to 350 and set rack at center position.

2. Spray two 9″ good quality cake pans with cooking spray, line them with heavy quality wax paper or parchment, spray them again on top of the paper, set aside.

3. In a soup-sized bowl, chop and lightly melt in the microwave in 10-second or less
3/4 cups unsalted butter (12 Tablespoons)
Tip: Stir butter chunks to be sure all parts are lightly melted and set aside to come to
room temperature. The butter should look pale yellow and not dark or oily.

4. Whisk in a medium bowl to fully incorporate and set aside:
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

5. Separate into separate medium bowls:
12 extra-large egg yolks (almost 2 cups, adding extra if you only have large eggs in

6. Gently mix the egg yolks with a fork and set aside.

7. The Beating Process (a though i):
Tip: Follow these beating directions to the tee and you will have a wonderful fluffy
sponge cake.

a. Using a large mixing bowl, beat gradually to high-speed for about 1 minute:
the bowl of egg whites

b. Sprinkle into the beating egg whites:
1/4 teaspoon salt

c. Beat the egg whites on high-speed for an additional 1 minute until light and fluffy.

d. Sprinkle into the egg whites:
1/4 cup of superfine sugar

e. Beat the egg whites on high-speed for an additional 30 seconds.

f. Slowly add to the egg whites while mixer is on low-speed:
1 cup superfine sugar

g. Beat the egg whites on high for an additional 30 seconds to fully incorporate the
Tip: The egg whites should be nicely peaked with a sweet glossy finish.

h. With the mixer on low-speed, slowly drizzle in:
the prepared egg yolks

i. Beat on medium-speed for about 1 minute.
Tip: This should give you a nice and fluffy golden egg batter.

8. Turn the whipped egg mixture into a very large bowl.

9. With a spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture in parts, taking gentle care but making certain all the flour is incorporated into the mixture.

10. Gently layer on top of the batter (see photo below):
the room temperature melted butter

11. Quickly fold into the batter the melted butter.

12. Pour or scoop the batter into the 2 prepared cake pans, taking care they are matched for batter levels in each pan.
Tip: The batter will almost fill the cake pans because this batter will not rise very much.

13. Now…BANG! the pans on the counter to release air bubbles from the dough. Yes, I said BANG! Lift up and slam down on the counter. Do it! It’s fun with music (and necessary). 🙂

14. Set a timer for 2 minutes to give time for the bubbles in the batter to rise to the surface and repeat the counter BANG! method a few times during this 2 minutes to
release more bubbles.
Tip: If you have any large stubborn bubbles showing on the top of the batter, you may gently pierce the bubbles with a toothpick. The objective is to rid the batter of the largest bubbles for a nice smooth texture.

15. Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes until the cakes are evenly golden and centers of each cake are clearly even (or puffier) than the sides of the cake, with cake tester coming out absolutely clean and cakes springing back lightly when touched lightly.
Tip: Complete doneness and a nice golden color are the goals.

16. Cool your fabulous cakes in their pans for 10 minutes.

17. While the cakes are slightly cooled but still warm, gently and carefully cut all around the edges (little sharp cuts will prevent tearing) to release the cakes and gingerly flip them onto cooling racks to cool completely.

18. Remove the protective paper from the cakes.

Tip: Cakes will be light and fluffy and…spongey. 🙂

19. When thoroughly cooled, slice each cake into 3 even and equally divided layers.
Tip: We do not want our vintage cakes to look like they came from the bakery so uneven layers are a MUST 🙂 …achieving the true look of a slightly imperfect piece of home craft art. 🙂 So relax and enjoy the process more than trying to make it perfect.
Tip: You may wrap each layer with plastic wrap when they are thoroughly cooled if you will be holding the cakes longer than an hour before frosting.

Note: We used (and recommend) only 2 layers from each cake, saving one layer from each cake for family snacking, however, if you are baking this cake as a stand-alone cake (without the Bavarian cream topping) you may make a taller 6-layer cake because there will be plenty of frosting in this recipe for a larger cake.

This cake is planned for topping with the cold Wild Blackberry Bavarian Cream Mousse and surrounded by Ladyfingers, drizzled with Creme Anglaise and sprinkled with fresh berries.

It will delight a party of 12 to 14 people!

Wild Blackberry Heirloom Frosting:

Tools needed for Heirloom Frosting:
Medium sauce pot
Medium bowl (for holding 2 c butter)
Electric mixer
Measuring cups and spoons

Ingredients for Heirloom Frosting:
2 cups (4 cubes) unsalted butter (there will be extra for optional 6 layers)
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality
3 Tablespoons fresh blackberry juice (optional, substitute blackberry jam thinned with a little water)
2 cups low-fat milk (2% is fine)
1/2 cups (8 Tablespoons) cornstarch
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of sifted powdered sugar (variable to taste)

Rough-chop into chunks:
2 cups (4 cubes) unsalted butter

Bring butter to room temperature in the microwave in 5- to 10-second intervals.

Beat on high for 7 minutes until light and fluffy:
the room temperature butter
2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
Tip: A long beating time is required to bring this frosting to the point of dissolving the sugar and creating a light and fluffy consistency.

Beat into the butter/sugar mixture on high for an additional 1 minute:
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality
3 Tablespoons fresh blackberry juice (see Bavarian Cream Mousse recipe for the berry juice or substitute blackberry jam thinned with a little water)

Meanwhile, back at the corral…

In a medium pot over medium-low heat and using a whisk to stir regularly, bring to a low simmering boil:
2 cups low-fat milk (2% is fine)
1/2 cup (8 Tablespoons) cornstarch
Tip: Whisk the cornstarch in thoroughly before the heat takes hold in the pan to be sure there are no lumps in your sauce. If it gets lumpy, don’t worry, just strain it and move forward. 🙂

Immediately upon boiling, reduce heat to “barely bubbling” and stir continuously for about 2 minutes to achieve a glossy smooth custard.

Remove custard from heat and stir it with a whisk for a couple of minutes to reduce the temperature.
Tip: Adding a blistering hot custard into the butter-sugar mixture will melt the butter so be sure to cool this custard a bit before using it in the mixing bowl.

Using a spatula, drop bits of the room temperature (or warm but not hot) custard into the butter/sugar mixture with the mixer on low until all is fully incorporated.

Turn up the mixer to high-speed and beat for 3 minutes until light and fluffy and glossy.

Come on!  This is SO cool, right!?

Sweeter Options: I recommend this frosting for its light and just-sweet flavor. When used in combination with the Wild Blackberry Bavarian Mousse and the drizzled Creme Anglaise and fruit, the sweetness is sufficient, however, if you are using this frosting recipe for a stand-alone cake or if you want more sweetness, you may beat in 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of sifted powdered sugar. An additional sweetening option: You may brush the top of each cake layer with a very fine layer of watered-down blackberry jelly (1 Tablespoon of warmed jelly with 2 teaspoons of water) or boiled and cooled blackberry simple syrup (1-part boiled sugar and 1-part water with a little blackberry juice added).

Frosting and preparing the cake with Ladyfingers:

Tools needed to frost the cake:
Long sharp serrated knife (for cutting the cake layers)
Frosting tool or knife (for, yeah, frosting the cake) 🙂
Scissors (for trimming thin cake edges uniformly if needed)
15″ or larger piece of aluminum foil (for easy handling of the cake)

Prepare a sheet of aluminum foil large at least 15″ wide and place it under one of the cakes in order to make cutting and rotating easy.

Using a very sharp large serrated knife, carefully cut each cake into 3 layers. We will only use 2 of the layers from each cake for this 4-layer cake so you may use the best 2 cuts out of each cake.
Tip: Cut into the outer edges only of the cake on the first pass.  Then, as you rotate the cake around on the aluminum foil, make a slightly deeper cut until you reach the center and the layer lifts away, taking about 3 to 4 full rotations of the cake to cut into the center.
Tip: Cut the balance of the unused cake layers into triangles and wrap them up for your morning coffee treats at the office. 🙂

Place one cake layer on the aluminum foil and begin the frosting process. Frost one layer at a time with 1/4 inch of frosting.

Repeat frosting each of the 3 “between” layers, leaving the top fourth layer of the cake bare.

Frost around the outer edges of the 4-layer cake, leaving the top bare.
Tip: You may use regular or kitchen scissors to cut the cake to make sure each layer fits perfectly on top of the bottom cake layer. The cake slices are light and spongy so they are not easy to crumble or break and they are quite easy to manipulate.

Tip: This Heirloom Frosting will chill in a lightly hardened state (similar to white chocolate frosting) so try to make the frosting layers on each layer a somewhat (but not perfect) similar spreading thickness.

Tools and ingredients needed for Assembling the Ladyfingers around the cake:
Homemade Ladyfingers (about 40 cookies)
Springform cake pan rim 9″
Springform cake pan 10″
Large round flat plate at least 12″ in diameter
Plastic wrap
Cake cover or cake holder (optional)

Note: If you do not have springform pans, you can try this by using a wide ribbon to wrap around the cookies that will encircle the cake to hold the Ladyfingers in place.

Clear a tall shelf from the refrigerator so that the cake can be immediately chilled when you are finished lining it with cookies.

Select a round flat plate that is large enough to hold the cake (at least 12″ in diameter), the cookies, the cream mousse and the metal molds.

Sort your cookies by size (assuming you baked imperfect variable sizes) and use larger cookies for the bottom rim of cookies and the smaller cookies for the top rim layer.

Place the freshly frosted cake (still on the aluminum foil) on the large flat plate.

Attach a Ladyfingers cookie at every point around the edge of the cake with an extra dab of frosting on the backside of the cookie (as a type of frosting “glue”) and surround the entire cake with the largest of your Ladyfingers cookies, side by side, making sure there are no gaps between cookies (cause gaps won’t work to hold the Bavarian cream in place).

Place the metal rim of the largest springform pan (10″ mold) around the cake and around the outer layer of the Ladyfingers, adjusting the springform snap if needed to ensure a snug fit.
Tip: If you need to, tighten the spring on the springform mold to make sure the cookies are snug.

Tip: You will have to remove and save one of the cookies in a plastic baggie to allow room for the springform mechanism to close snugly. You can add this cookie back with a little frosting “glue” just before serving when you remove the springform molds.

Place the smaller of the springform molds (the 9″ mold) on top of the cake and just inside the bottom cookie fence. The smaller mold should sit just inside the larger mold and run along the inside edge of the bottom layer of Ladyfingers. There should be about 1/4″ of wiggle room to allow for an outer lining of cookies.

Line the inside of the 9″ metal rim of the springform mold with another layer of Ladyfingers cookies. Gently tuck the bottoms of the cookies at the edge of the cake to be sure they stay in place. The cake is very springy and will allow you to pull-and-tuck cookies with it without damaging it. Make sure the cookies touch each other in a tight little upright row.

Aren’t they cute?  P.S.  This is what I call my “cookie girdle” invention.  Ha!

Place plastic wrap on the top of the cake, cover the cake entirely with plastic wrap or a cake cover and store in the refrigerator overnight or until your Bavarian Cream Mousse is prepared and chilled sufficiently to fill the top cookie mold.

Photo Note: I frosted and added another layer of cake to make a total of 4 layers (although I originally intended to stop at 3 layers) so some photos show what used to be the top of the cake until I added to it. Four thin cake layers seems ideal to me for this recipe.

The time to top the cake with the berry mousse will be when the mousse is chilled to a sufficient thickness to distribute over the cake within the “walls” of the Ladyfingers without being runny (with a consistency of pudding).

The cake is hearty yet delicate, with a lovely and unique frosting. The berry mousse is extraordinarily flavorful and the drizzle of vanilla sauce with a few extra berries on top will serve a King or Queen with the royal treatment!

In the next step, you will prepare the Wild Blackberry Bavarian Cream Mousse

…that will fill the top ring of cookies with an incredible chilled fruit mousse to be topped with fresh fruit (and then sliced and plated with a touch of Creme Anglaise).

Now on to the Wild Blackberry Bavarian Cream Mousse for the next step!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this recipe and captured the joy we had re-creating this from vintage recipes.  Happy baking to you and let me know how it goes in the comments section.  I so love hearing from you all!


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